Originally published Feb. 6, 2015.
Torcus Boone spent the last 17 months facing a murder charge. But it took a jury just 90 minutes Thursday to acquit Boone, 42, of the murder of 20-year-old Kenneth "Cootie" Richards.
Boone was represented by Belleville lawyers Justin Kuehn and Lloyd Cueto Jr.
"They are the greatest lawyers in the world," Boone said as he walked out of the St. Clair County Jail on Thursday afternoon.
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Boone denied he had anything to do with Richards' murder and said he wasn't too worried during the short deliberation because he "had faith" in his lawyers. Boone said he planned to leave the jail, see his children, then eat a steak dinner.
"We are very happy and very relieved," Kuehn said after the verdict. "We are very thankful to this jury."
Boone was, too. "They are the greatest jurors in the world, too, just like my lawyers."
If convicted, Boone would have faced a minimum of 45 years in prison. The maximum sentence was life.
"This man would have died in prison," Cueto said.
During the trial, Boone did not testify. Brendan Kelly thanked the assistant state's attorney and investigating officers who worked on the case.
"We respect the jury's decision. The police, prosecutors and family have always known this was a very difficult case, but it was our duty to the victim and the victim's family to vigorously put forth what evidence we had and to trust the system," Kelly said.
Richards' murder was caught on a surveillance camera placed in the parking lot of an East St. Louis nightclub. The tape was played for the jury in the trial of Boone, who was accused of being one of the shooters who sent 17 bullets in Richards' direction as he sat on a Pontiac parked on the lot of Denese's nightclub in the 200 block of Collinsville Avenue in East St. Louis on Sept. 1, 2013.
The fatal shot was to Richards' head.
The tape showed one man approaching Richards, then pulling up a gun and begin firing. As he walked away, the tape showed another man, who prosecutors said was Boone, running up to Richards and firing more shots, then fleeing. But this person's face can't be clearly seen on the tape because it was obscured with a white cloth.
One witness, Renee Rosebud, testified the shooter was Boone. Kuehn told the jury that Rosebud never said that she saw Boone's face during the shooting, but that she identified him across the crowded parking lot by his gait, his build and the shape of his head.
"I'm not sure I could identify my wife in those conditions," Kuehn said.
Kuehn told the jury they should question Rosebud's testimony because she told police the day after Richards' murder that it was Boone and two other men that were also responsible for her son's murder.
The identity of Rosebud's son was not immediately available. Without good eyewitness testimony and with no motive, Kuehn asked the jury to acquit Boone.
But Assistant State's Attorney Judy Dalan countered that if Rosebud was lying or embellishing, she would simply say she saw Boone as he fired the gun. What she did say, Dalan said, was that Rosebud saw Boone and the two other men in Boone's GMC Yukon just before the shooting, parked at the far end of the bar's parking lot.
As for motive, Dalan countered, "We would love to have a motive in every case we prosecute, but in some cases we can't get inside the heart, we can't get inside the mind of a killer."
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Zina Cruse presided over the trial.
It was the second time in seven weeks that a man facing a first-degree murder charge was acquitted by a St. Clair County jury. Both of those men, Boone and William Cosby, were represented by Cueto and Kuehn.
On Dec. 19, Kuehn and Cueto won a not-guilty verdict for William Cosby, who was accused of the shooting death of Antwan "Twix" Thomas. Thomas was found shot outside an East St. Louis bar on April 9, 2012. Kuehn and Cueto argued that Cosby shot Thomas in self-defense.
Cosby was previously convicted of murder in a jury trial before former Circuit Judge Michael Cook. That conviction was overturned after Cook pleaded guilty to heroin possession and weapons charges.
"We had two very good cases," Kuehn said. "We had two cases with clients that we believed were innocent and the evidence, we believed, showed that."
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at email@example.com or 618-239-2570. Follow her on Twitter: @bhundsdorfer.